Saturday, February 18, 2017

Join the scavenger hunt. Enter to win two Kindles, an Amazon gift card, lots of books, and more!

The Hunt Is On!

Jill here. To celebrate the release of King’s Blood, I am hosting an online scavenger hunt. There are 18 authors participating and a bunch of fabulous giveaways. It is EPIC. And it's happening right now.

The hunt is happening now and ends Sunday night at midnight,
Pacific time.

The hunt begins at Stop #1 on my blog.

What are the prizes?
First Prize: Kindle Fire or ($50 Amazon Gift Card) and signed copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Second Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card and signed paperback copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Third Prize: Signed paperback copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Bonus Quiz Prize: Kindle Fire or ($50 Amazon Gift Card) and signed copies of King’s Folly and King’s Blood (unsigned if international winner).
Bonus giveaways: Look for more giveaways on various participating author sites (see each site during the hunt for details).

Who is participating?

Stop #1 Jill Williamson
Stop #2 Jaye L. Knight
Stop #3 Ronie Kendig
Stop #4 Shannon Dittemore
Stop #5 Kim Vandel
Stop #6 Kerry Nietz
Stop #7 Steve Rzasa
Stop #8 K. M. Weiland
Stop #9 Kyle Pratt
Stop #10 John W. Otte
Stop #11 C. J. Darlington
Stop #12 Melanie Dickerson
Stop #13 Chawna Schroeder
Stop #14 Tricia Mingerink
Stop #15 Gillian Bronte Adams
Stop #16 R. J. Larson
Stop #17 Morgan Busse
Stop #18 Serena Chase
Stop #19 Jill Williamson

How can you play?
Click here to join in the fun.

I hope to see you all on the scavenger hunt. Until next time. Save more. Read more.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spotlight on Theater, a guest post by Brooklynn Gross

Happy Friday, friends! Shannon here. I've got something fun for you today.

Please welcome Brooklynn Gross to the blog! As a theater lover myself, Brooklyn's article resonates with me. More than that, she communicates clearly how the craft of theater relates to the craft of writing. Even if you've never set foot on the stage, you'll appreciate her advice.  

Brooklynn Gross lives in South Dakota with her parents and younger sister. She enjoys reading, playing piano, and writing poetry for her state’s literary magazine. Someday, she hopes to become a high-school English teacher.

I adore the moments leading up to a performance. 

There’s a buzz of excitement in the air--or maybe it’s just the chatter from the expectant audience. I adjust my costume, whispering my lines one last time before stepping up on stage.

The thrill of performing isn’t the only thing I like about the theater. Whether it’s a skit in drama class or a musical at the local retirement community, my acting experiences--both on and offstage have impacted my writing and the way I see the craft.

This past summer, I worked with a set of directors who stressed the importance of talking like our character, moving like our character, and improvising. Does this rule only apply onstage? I decided to find out.

Talk like your character.
In theater, you’re given a script with your character’s lines already written, but there is more to acting than just saying the right words at the right time. If your line is “Where is the princess?” you need to use your character’s feelings and traits as a guide. Are you the princess's mother, looking for your daughter in the woods? Or are you the evil witch, furious at your henchmen for letting Rapunzel escape?

In writing, it’s the same way. Although your character’s lines aren’t pre-written and highlighted, you still have to take into account how your character feels when she’s talking. Is she exploding at her best friend, using short, choppy sentences and constantly interrupting?

The best way to decide how your character would talk in a situation is to put yourself in her shoes. If she’s excited or scared, think about a time you felt that way. What does it sound like when she’s lying? Are her sentences filled with rambling explanations, or does she fall silent, only offering monosyllabic answers?

Move like your character.
During a one-act play festival at a local high school, I saw a play about three elderly women who all had crushes on the middle-aged detective living across the street. While I was watching, I kept forgetting that the elderly women characters were all played by teenagers. Sure, the fake wrinkles and frumpy dresses were probably a factor in that, but I believe that movement--the way the girls leaned on their canes and walked at half-speed--transformed the high-schoolers into ninety-year-olds. Even the most subtle movements, like the way their hands shook when they picked up their tea cups, showed that the girls were completely in character.

Words that show movement (walk, run, glide, etc.) do a lot more than get your characters from point A to point B. They can show how your character is feeling. Instead of saying, “She was winded from the race” you could let description do it for you, like this:

Lilly stumbled over the finish line and collapsed into the grass. Her lungs inflated like balloons as she gulped down air. Sweat trickled down her forehead in little rivers, drenching her shirt.

During drama class, I learned about a type of acting that doesn’t involve scripts or memorized choreography. It’s called improvisational theater, or improv for short. In improv, a group of actors perform a skit (usually a comedy), making up the plot, characters, and dialogue on the spot, without any rehearsals or practice beforehand. Oftentimes, the actors incorporate the audience’s suggestions to get the skit started.

One time, I watched an improv troupe who let the audience choose quirks for the characters in the skit. They were all silly things; for example, the first character thought he was a dog. The second one had short-term memory loss.

Real-life people have quirks, too. (Maybe they’re not as extreme as the person who thinks he’s a dog, but they’re still unique.) Like your sister, who says nonsensical words whenever she’s angry, or your friend who dips her french fries in peanut butter.

If people in the real world have quirks, shouldn’t characters in your storyworld? It makes them more realistic and helps with characterization. Your characters’ idiosyncrasies and habits can give readers a glimpse of their personalities. If one of your characters constantly calls her friends by the wrong name, maybe it shows that she’s scatterbrained. Maybe it shows that she thinks her friends are too similar, dressing and acting the same way just to fit in.

On stage and on paper, quirky, unique characters are more realistic and interesting.

Being involved in theater has helped me strengthen my characters and their stories. I believe that all writers should consider being involved in theater. But if the notion of auditioning for the school musical makes you feel queasy, fear not. Just pop your head into the school auditorium during rehearsal or cheer on your community theater during their next performance. Maybe you’ll see a writing concept in action.

Or maybe you’ll sit in the darkness, listening to the whispers floating from backstage, wrapped up in the magical moment before the first actor steps onstage.

Because that would be pretty special, too.

Have you ever seen a play or participated in a theatrical production? Did you experience anything that might impact your writing? 
I’d love to hear about it!

Note from Shannon: Yes! We'd love to hear how your theater experiences translate to writing. After you leave a comment, Jill Williamson has another fantastic treat for you that includes Kindle giveaways and oodles of books up for grabs. Hop over to her blog and bring a life preserver! We're all LOST AT SEA!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How To Edit Description

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

On Monday, Stephanie talked about how to make your setting come alive in edits. My job is to show you how that looks. As Stephanie mentioned, most all of us can see the setting in our imaginations, but it can be tricky to learn how to get what's in our head onto the page. Description is important. It's necessary. Readers need to know certain things, like where the characters are, what time of day it is, who is in the room, etc. It's also important to make memorable some of the places your characters go. This takes practice, but it also takes editing. And as you practice editing, you'll start to learn whether you have too much description, not enough, if you're telling the readers things or if your simply using bland words that don't do a great job of painting word pictures in your readers' minds. Take a look at the following examples to see if you can identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Too little?
You’re an under-describer. You describe pretty much nothing unless by accident. Your readers can’t picture your setting at all and they don’t know what anyone in your story looks like. 
Kate entered the house and glanced around. Creepy. Could the place really be haunted? And even if it was, would she have time to get upstairs and find the clue before the ghost came after her? Only one way to find out. She ran up two flights of stairs to the attic.

The plot seems to have Kate entering a haunted house with the goal of obtaining something from upstairs. She is worried there might be ghosts around, but we don't see any. We don't see anything at all. I'm not really scared for her. Some description of what she sees would greatly help increase the tension and emotion of the scene. The house is important here. It should be memorable.

Too much?

You love description and can’t help but putting into your story every tiny detail, but your readers get bored—completely overwhelmed by the long paragraphs of description distracting them from the plot. 
Kate stepped gingerly up the cracked steps and over a jagged hole in the porch to the front door. She could see blades of grass and dandelions poking through from underneath. A sheet of white cobwebs had completely ensconced the doorknob. How would she open the door? She pulled the sleeve of her blue fleece hoodie over her hand and turned the knob. She felt the latch click just as three spiders crawled out from beneath the thick web and onto her sleeve. She screeched and shoved the door inward, pulling back her hand and shaking it, wiggling in something akin to a tribal dance, shuddering all the while. The spiders fell to the porch and scrambled into the hole. Good riddance.
The hinges creaked as the door swung slowly open. Kate inched toward the opening, the toes of her Toms lined up perfectly outside the threshold. Blackness filled the doorway and she couldn’t make out what was inside. Reluctantly, she crossed over the threshold, took three tentative steps inside, placing each foot carefully in case there were holes in the floor inside as well. 
A musty smell made her gag, and she covered her mouth and nose with her hand. A beam of sunlight speared through the room and dust particles rioted in the golden glow. Beyond, everything was dark, but slowly came into a dim focus. She stood in an entry way at the foot of a long staircase with a banister on one side and a wall on the other that was covered with tattered paintings. She had to go upstairs to find the clue, so she ignored the rest of the house and began to climb.

This description was far more interesting. We do get a sense of why Kate is afraid. But the pacing is dragging out a little too slowly here. It would be nice to move things along. Plus, description should leave some room for the imagination, and there is little unsubscribed in the example above.

Too plain?
You give the facts—basic and no frills. It’s like you’re in a race, and if you're editing a first draft, you probably were. 
Kate walked up the steps and entered through a door that creaked and was covered in cobwebs and spiders. The foyer was dark black, but once her eyes adjusted, she started up the stairs, knowing that the clue would be found in the attic.

In the words of George Bailey, “Well, here’s your hat, what's your hurry?” This description is sprinting along. See if you can go in and turn each sentence in to two sentences. Or add another sentence in between the ones you have. Also, replace the vague words with specific ones. "Walked" could be "crept" to help give readers an idea of how Kate might be feeling. "Gloomy" is a more powerful word than "dark" and it also paints an emotion. And my guess is, the foyer isn't black at all but shades of gray and brown. Give us just a few details. Torn wallpaper, maybe. That musty smell. Cobwebs that tickle the neck. Sounds elsewhere in the house. You don't have to give the readers a lot, but what you do choose to give them should be fitting and memorable. Try to work in some more of the five senses as well.

Too fancy?
You love flowery language and like to paint the perfect image of everything your character can see. 
Kate inched up the gray, rotting steps that were putrid with the stench of decomposition. She opened an decrepit door, thick with sticky cobwebs. The hinges squeaked like a mouse being trod upon by an iron boot. Like a stealthy ninja, Kate slipped inside a drab foyer, so cold and uninviting that made her feel like it was sucking all the light from her very soul. Her blinking eyes caught sight of a narrow staircase carpeted in a thin, gaudy pattern, and she crept up the stairs one at a time, her heart pounding with each creak. Certain she could feel the icy beams of a ghost’s eyes piercing the back of her neck, she quickly made her way up toward the attic.

This paragraph has lots of telling and some descriptions and metaphors that are trying way too hard. Description should not be cliche, nor should it be so odd and puzzling that it pulls the reader from the story. It's good to add lots of descriptive words, but some of these feel wrong and the overuse of adjectives feels formulaic, as if every noun must have one. Try not to let your description work too hard.

Too passive?
You stop your story to describe things rather than have your character interact with the setting. 
The house sat crooked, like the foundation was bad and it might collapse at any moment. The porch was rotted and filled with holes, the door covered in cobwebs. Inside, everything was dark but for a single beam of sunlight that pierced through a crack in one of the boarded-up windows, lighting a plain foyer and a stairs that ran along one wall and was carpeted in a thin, gaudy pattern.

This description feels like a narrator hijacked the story, completely stopped the action, and gave us his version of how things looked. Description should be active and moving in a way that matches the pacing in the scene. Try to use Kate's movements to trigger the things that are described. Description should also come through the eyes of the point of view character. What is described should be things Kate can physically see and they should be described in words she would use. 

Most importantly, description should serve at least two purposes. It should describe and _______ (characterize or create emotion or reveals a clue or advance the plot) etc.

Here is my final draft of Kate entering the haunted house:

It's not perfect, but I tried to take the best parts of all the above descriptions and add some personality for Kate. I'd probably rewrite it another three or four times before being truly happy with it, but I think it does the job of getting Kate inside, describing the place, and giving a sense of foreboding to the reader.

Kate crept up the rotting porch steps to the front door, her heart pounding. A sheet of thick, white cobwebs had been knitted around the doorknob. She pulled her sleeve over her hand and turned the knob, wincing. Just as the latch clicked, a huge spider crawled out from beneath the thick web. Kate jumped back and shoved the door inward, pulling her hand away and shivering all over. This place was likely crawling with spiders.
The door gaped open now, revealing nothing but blackness inside. Kate pulled on her hood to keep anything from crawling down her neck, kept a close eye on the spider scuttling across the door, held her breath, and darted through the opening.
Inside she relaxed. It was cooler out of the sun and smelled of old books. She blinked her eyes into focus and found herself standing in a plain foyer with a narrow staircase running up one wall. She stepped over gray, scuffed wood to the runner of worn, faded blue carpet that ran up the stairs. Portraits covered in dust and cobwebs hung at intervals along the stairwell wall. A single beam of sunlight pierced through a crack in one of the boarded-up windows above the front door and landed on a picture of a young man from a different era. He seemed to be staring at her. 
Focus, Kate. You’re taking too long. Up to the attic, then get out.
She jogged up the stairs, strangely feeling like the young man from the portrait was watching her every move.

Here are some more posts on the topic of description that you might find helpful:

How To Describe A Place
How To Describe People
Describing Characters Through Characters
Describing Through Character's Interests
#WeWriteBooks, Post 21: Description
10 Tips For Tight Descriptions
8 Tips for Creating Great Descriptions

So what kind of describer are you? Share in the comments which of the above you tend to do, and if you want to share a paragraph of description that you're proud of or would like feedback on, feel free to paste it in the comments as well.

Help, please?

Tinker, the first installment in my children's chapter book series, is free on Amazon Kindle this week until Saturday. I'm hoping as many people as possible will download a copy to help it get lots of exposure. If you're a Kindle user, would you do me a favor and grab a copy of Tinker? And if you don't mind spreading the word, feel free to share the image below. For those who want to help, here's a few phrases you could copy and paste. Thanks so much! I appreciate you all. :-)

Download Tinker free on Kindle through Saturday. A great story for readers ages 6-13.

What's this? A fairytale retelling for boys? With a science experiment included? Download a free Kindle copy of Tinker through Saturday.

A boy an his robot dog set out to win the recycle race in Tinker, free on Kindle through Saturday. A great story for readers ages 6-13.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Lost Girl of Astor Street is on sale today!

If you've been wanting a copy of my latest release, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, but dragging your feet because you're the type to wait for a bargain, there's a sweet Valentine's sale going on today for the eBook!

For just 1.99 you can grab the eBook from Amazon, Nook, Google, or Apple:

Happy reading!

Monday, February 13, 2017

How To Make Your Setting Come Alive In Edits

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.

***If you want a chance to win one of three signed copies of The Lost Girl of Astor Street, hop over to my blog to take part in a clue hunt!***

For some writers, the setting, or the story world, is the reason they write. This is a common refrain among fantasy writers that I talk to, that they started writing fantasy because they love the worldbuilding.

Sometimes during our first draft, the setting feels vibrant and alive in our imaginations. That was true for me as I wrote The Lost Girl of Astor Street, my young adult historical mystery, But when I re-read my first draft, I was surprised to find very few descriptive details. The setting had been very real in my imagination, but I hadn't done a good job of getting the details on the page.

If you can relate, here are some ideas for how to enhance your setting during your edits.

Slow yourself down.

Often the reason my setting details are sparse is that I'm so eager to get the story down that I skim over all those details. In a first draft when the only reader is you, that's fine. But when you move into your second draft, and you're preparing your book to be read by others, you need to make sure that what you're seeing in your head is showing up in the text.

For me, I must take physical steps to slow myself down. I'll close my eyes, imagine myself wherever my characters are, draw up sensory details (more on that next), and after a few minutes I'll begin revising the scene to include what I experienced.

Engage your senses.
When I've slowed myself down, and I'm imagining myself in the scene, I do this by thinking through the senses. What in this scene can my character see, touch, hear, smell, and taste?

Because of my tendency to rush through this step, I've disciplined myself to write down several ideas for each sense my character experiences in the scene. Not all of the ideas make it into my revisions, but I've still found it to be beneficial to have a big pool of ideas to draw from.

Push yourself to go beyond the obvious.

If you're like me, it's easy to get into a description rut. I have my characters walk into rooms and notice the same things that they noticed in that other roomsthe wall color, the quality of furniture, and so on. Or I'm always using the same colors for everything.

But you know what's amazing about being a novelist versus someone who makes visual stories? We're not limited by any kind of budget we have or what we can find at the store.

You want your character to have a green pinstripe couch? No problem. Want half your book to take place in Bermuda and the other half in Prince Edward Island? Sure. In first drafts, I often default to my habits. My characters are always meeting at ordinary restaurants, walking through ordinary parks, or attending ordinary schools.

If you write realistic fiction like I do, you of course need to be real with your settings, but don't limit yourself to obvious choices. Same goes for what you pick to describe in a room. Try to go beyond the details like the wall color or furniture arrangement and give us details that show creativity and thought went into crafting this place.

Checkout this brief description of a store from The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater:

Fathom & Sons is a narrow, dark corridor of a shop, stuffed like a Cornish hen, with odds and ends labeled with little price tags that glow like white teeth in the dim light. It always smells a little like butter browning in a panso, like heaven. 

This is a place we only visit a few times during the story, but still she takes great care in few words to craft an image of the setting. Go forth and do likewise.

Pick items that convey emotion.

This is a technique I like to play around with in edits. Examine your scene and determine what the mood of it is. What is the POV character feeling at this time? What are they going to feel at the end of the scene? What kind of change is going to take place?

Then when you're crafting the description of your setting, you can think about if there are elements you can draw out that will highlight the mood. For example, if your character is in a fragile place, or something is about to break open in the plot, you might share details like the cracked lamp on the end table or the glass figurines on the mantle.

You can get a bit too on the nose with this one, so sometimes it can be better to draw out opposites. Like your aggressive, fierce character journeying through a meadow full of flowers, or a happy occasion being shrouded in fog.

There's no right or wrong way to do this, it's just something to have fun with.

Tell me about your setting! Pick a few unique details about it to share in the comments.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode One

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

YOU GUYS! We did a thing! A fancy, totally-new-to-us endeavor.

Yesterday, we recorded our first ever Go Teen Writers video blog!

In this fifteen minute chat, Stephanie Morrill, Jill Williamson and I answer two questions posed by two of you. Hadley Grace and J. Liessa participated in our recent writing exercises and were randomly selected to ask us ALMOST any question.

For more information on our writing exercises and how you can be awarded the opportunity to contribute a question for our next Live Episode, click here.

To watch Go Teen Writers Live: Episode One click the tantalizing arrow below. And then be sure to leave us a comment telling us how you liked it. And be kind! We're rookies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Two Ways To Tackle A Major Rewrite

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

To celebrate the release of King's Blood, I'm having an EPIC SALE on the paperback copies of book one, King’s Folly. You can order autographed copies of King’s Folly from my author store for only $10, shipping included. (NOTE: My online store is wonky. It will not allow me to put free shipping on a book. So I priced the book at $7 and it will add $3 shipping to equal $10. Sorry that’s complicated… But it works!) Click here to visit my author store. Sale ends this Saturday at 6:00 pm, Pacific. If you want the autograph personalized, please add instructions to the notes section of the order.

On Monday, Stephanie talked about what to do when your book is such a mess you don't know if it's worth editing. My job is to show you how that might look. When I am gearing up to do a major edit on a novel, I usually do this one of two ways, and it all depends on what shape the manuscript is in.

A writer can usually tell if his or her manuscript is a mess or not. But when you're newer to writing, it can be hard to know. If you aren't sure, I highly recommend getting into a critique group that has varied ages and levels of success so that you can get some diverse feedback. Another good way to get feedback on your craft is to attend a writers conference in which you can show part of your manuscript to an editor or agent.

But for the sake of this post, let's pretend you have sent your manuscript to your editor for a full, hard-core edit. You should get back two things. You should get back an editorial review letter that lists major problems with the story, and you should also get your manuscript back with comments from the editor throughout. Depending on the feedback in those two documents, you should have a good idea about what kind of rewrite lies ahead.

1. The Manuscript Is In Decent Shape

First of all, whenever I read an editorial review letter from my editor, I get discouraged. After twenty books, I know this about myself and I'm prepared for my reaction. So I'll read the letter, then mope a little (and I'm usually moping because I'm overwhelmed at the amount of work it is going to take to fix all the problems). A day or two later, I'm over it and am excited to crack my knuckles and get to work to make the book the best it can be.

I think it would be difficult for me to show you how this process works without showing you an actual editorial review letter. So if you click here, you can read the editorial letter Jeff Gerke sent me for my book Captives. The book itself was in pretty good shape, though I did end up changing a lot in my rewrite. So, take a moment to read or skim the editorial letter, then come back here and I'll tell you how I tackled this edit.

You back? Okay. So, I read this letter and pretty much agreed with everything he said. Here is what I did:

1. I made a To Do list. I wrote down the major problems from his editorial letter and from his comments in the manuscript. It looked something like this:

- Better establish the village.
- Create a ticking time bomb scene as a prologue to establish that danger is coming.
- Get fully into Mason's skin to establish him as the series hero.
- Expand the story's focus of Mason researching the Thin Plague.
- Jemma is a lame POV character. Why not create a new POV girl who will have to go into the Harem and become pregnant in the lab?
- Strengthen my main characters. Give them proper backstories and motivations, both inner and outer, and work hard to keep them consistent.
- Cut down the number of Glenrock characters. Kill off more people! :-(
- Don't forget to let your characters grieve the loss of their loved ones.
- Plant and payoff. Go back and plant yellow cameras, character traits, slang, etc.
- Work hard on making the technology futuristic and much cooler.
- Double check mature content.
- Consider wedding scene for the end.

2. I prioritized my To Do list, then I took each item one at a time. I didn't try to make anything perfect. I just focused on big, macro-edit, issues. That looked something like this:

- I went through and brainstormed a plot for Shaylinn, a new character who would replace Jemma's POV scenes. Jemma was still a character in the book, but I thought with my dystopian plot, it would be stronger (and scarier) to see what happens to one of the girls who is impregnated in the lab. So I plotted out all that would happen to Shaylinn in ways that fit into the scenes Jemma already had. I did have to totally scrap a few Jemma chapters, but overall this worked fairly smoothly.
- I wrote a prologue from Ciddah's POV. She is a medic in the Safe Lands who gives a report to the Safe Lands Guild. I chose her because she is an important character who would appear later on in the story, which cut down on my overall number of characters.
- I wrote a new begining to the book from Mason's POV. I worked hard to show as much of their normal village life as I could while simultaneously characterizing as many of my main characters as possible.
-I went through and added comments at the start of every chapter or at intregal places, reminding me of various things so that I wouldn't miss them when I came through with the micro-edit. Notes like "add yellow cameras here" or "check for Jordan's slang" or "add technology changes throughout this scene."
- There were a few more things on my list, but you get the idea.

3. Once the book was all put together again with the right scenes in the right places, I did my micro-edit. And this is where I worked hard to add description, characterization, tweak character voice, add technology, and things like that. And with any book, I always repeat this phase as many times as I can before I reach my due date.

2. The Manuscript Is A Disaster

Not all manuscripts are in decent shape. And some authors go through the process I did with Captives only to get an email from their editor that says, "It's still not working. Rewrite it again, but this time fix these things."

Can you imagine? 

It's quite common, though. I do have a manuscript that I equate with disaster status. I know some of you liked it (and I'm glad!) but I'm talking about THIRST. It was an experiment to write a book one chapter a week on my blog, but doing so left me with something a bit wild. There is no solid three-act structure to it, which can be okay with some books, but not with THIRST. So it needs a major operation before I can move forward with it in any way.

What to do?

If you have a manuscript like this, first give it some space. Write something else for a while and come back and take a look after you've had a nice break. You should be able to see the problems better then. When I'm in a situation like this, here is how I tackle it:

1. Since I don't have an editor to help me, I make my own To Do list. I usually know what many of the problems are, so I write them all down. Part of my list for THIRST looks like this:

-No one likes Jaylee. The fact that Eli likes her annoys people. We don't want him to be dumb, and anyone who likes Jaylee is dumb because she is mean! Make her likable already.
-You have two Kristas in the book. Change one name.
-Riggs needs to act like an adult a little better. He doesn't want to get chewed out by parents.
-Characters need to be more worried about the END OF THE WORLD.
-Add more road kill.
-Eli needs to be worrying about his dad more.
-Logan is annoying. Don't make him so 7th grade.
-Zaq would go inside with Eli to see if Lizzie is there...
-Creepy dudes chasing Krista. Creepy dudes chasing Hannah. Too similar. Change one.
-Careful of stereotypical characters! Jaylee, Logan, Riggs...
-What happened to Jaylee and Krista after Eli and the others moved to the house?
-All the characters need to get a task (job)
-What happened to Jaylee? Riggs?
-What happened to Reinhold and his daughter?
-We need some news from the outside world. What’s happening out there?
-Bring back shotgun man and his dog so that Eli can get back his dad's gun. I need it for Rebels!
-Make it clear that Eli and company are sticking close to the Safe Lands because that's the only safe water around.

2. Because THIRST is such a mess, I can't handle the above list the same way I handled it with Captives. It's not ready for that stage. I can't just go through and fix what is there because I need to change so much. One of the things I want to do is split it into two books. I'll end book one when they arrive in what will become the Safe Lands. And book two will pick up from there. 

So what do I do now?

I set my list aside, for now, and I scroll through the book, writing each scene (that I know I want to keep) on an index card. Once I have the whole book written out on cards, I'll divide the cards into two stacks: one for book one and another for book two.

3. I set aside the cards for book two, and I storyboard book one. That means, I lay out all the cards for book one in order, either on the floor or I tape them to the wall or a white board. I leave gaps here and there, especially when I know I need more scenes. Any scenes that naturally fit into the three-act structure I label (Inciting Incident, Climax of Act One, Midpoint Twist, etc), and once I can see everything before me, I brainstorm new scenes to fill in the holes and the missing parts of the three-act structure until I have the makings of a decent story. 

4. I go into my Word file and I cut out the second half of the book, save it in a new file as THIRST BOOK TWO (or a better name if I have one). Then I close that for later. Now I have THIRST BOOK ONE open, and I go through and add the notes for my new scenes until I have everything listed in the book chronologically.

5. I go in and write all the new scenes.

6. Once I have everything written, ugly as it might be, I then pull out that To Do list I talked about back in number 1 and prioritize it. I start rewriting the things that are broken, taking them one at a time. I'm now at the macro-edit stage.

7. When all those major items are crossed off the list, I'll go into micro-edit stage and fix all the minor things. I'll repeat this process until I'm happy with the book.

8. Then I open the Word file for THIRST BOOK TWO and repeat the process.

9. I know that once I finish THIRST BOOK TWO, I will find some things to tweak in THIRST BOOK ONE and vice versa. So I will likely bounce back and forth between the two books and tweak them until I'm happy with both.

And that's what it looks like for me, though I'm sure other authors have different processes. 

How about you? If you've tackled major rewrites, share in the comments any insight you might have for our readers. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

What To Do When Your Book Is Such A Mess You Don't Know If It's Worth Editing

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.

I think every writer has finished a first draft of somethingan article, a short story, a novelonly to reread their work and feel like it's an enormous mess.

When I get the chance to talk to young writers, I often hear something like, "The first book I wrote is such a mess because I didn't know what I was doing. I still like the story, but I'm just not sure it's even worth editing."

When you first start writing, you are growing and changing so rapidly that your skill level by the end of writing a novel is often much different than it was when you started. Especially if this is one of the first times you've pushed yourself to write an entire book, or if it's taken several years to complete it.

So do you have some messy completed drafts sitting on your hard drive that you've been afraid to touch? If so, here are some thoughts from my experience that I hope can help you:

Not every first draft is worth editing.

In about thirty seconds, I can think of nine completed manuscripts sitting on my hard drive unedited. Some of them are books I wrote in my late teens that just didn't work the way I thought they would, and I've lost my interest in the story. But three of them were written in the last few years. Several of them I still love.

But like you, the writing time I have is very limited. Right now I've made the choice to pursue YA historical fiction, so using my writing time to edit the YA contemporary novel that I inexplicably love despite it hardly having a plot just doesn't make sense for me right now.

Only you can answer if your book is worth the time investment that edits requires.

"Not Now" isn't the same as "Not ever."

If you really don't know if the book is worth your time and energy, here's a link to the thought process that's helped me. (See point two on that post.) In a perfect world, I go through this thought process when I'm still in the idea stage. But in my early years when I didn't understand what sold in the market and what didn't, I tended to ask myself those questions after my first draft.

But deciding that now isn't the time you want to work on edits doesn't mean you never will. I once archived a completed second draft of Me, Just Different, swearing the story was broken beyond repair, and I was moving on. But Skylar and Connor wouldn't leave me alone, and several months later I got the broken manuscript back out. Sometimes time away is all we need to renew our enthusiasm for a story.

Editing is a different skill than writing.

You've worked hard to learn how to write an entire first draft. You've studied elements of story structure, developed your characters' backstories, rewritten your opening scene countless times, and invested months, maybe years, into producing a completed draft.

Shouldn't editing be a natural extension of what you've learned so far?

I know it seems like it. While all the work you've done to learn how to write a first draft no doubt will improve your editing skills too, editing a book is a different skill set than writing a book. Just like you had to be patient with yourself while you learned to write a story, now you'll need to be patient with yourself while you learn to edit one. (If you'd like some hand holding through the editing process, you should check out Go Teen Writers: How To Turn Your First Draft Into A Finished Book.)

I know edits can feel intimidating, and that a new, shiny book idea often sounds like a lot more fun. (And there's nothing wrong with chasing the fun. I encourage it!) But like the classic Michael Crichton quote goes, "Books aren't written, they're rewritten." Eventually, if you want your story to read like a book, you'll have to hone your editing skills.

Only take the plunge on edits when you feel the time is right.

Maybe you have family or friends who have been really supportive as you've worked on your first draft. They want to read your story, and you want them to read it too, but not until you've shined her up a bit.

Only now you don't really feel like shining her up. If your first drafts are anything like my first drafts, there are different tenses, hardly any description, flat characters, and loads of other issues that you don't know yet how to fix. And there's this new story idea that you think could be even better...

But what about the people who have supported you? I know it's uncomfortable to say, "Yeah, I invested a lot of time in writing that draft. I got up early to work on it, and when you wanted to hang out with me, I sometimes said, 'I can't because I want to write.' But now I'm not going to edit it. I'm just going to put it away."

If you're not a writer, this can be a difficult thing to understand. All that work, and now you're just going to put it away? But editing is hard enough when you feel excited about the book, and I've yet to see success when I unenthusiastically edit. Unless you've signed a contract and you're on a deadline, I recommend waiting to edit until you feel ready.

"I want to edit my book, but how do I even start?"

Maybe you really want to edit your book, and you're willing to put in the work, but you just don't know how to fix it. Here are some links that I hope will help you along your way:

The Go Teen Writers Book: Jill and I poured our heart and soul into this thing. We talk about big picture editing stuff, drill down into those smaller issues that crop up, and then have loads of resources and worksheets in the end.

Editing for the first time? 5 Thoughts To Help You Make Sense of It.

Editing In Layers series: 

From Jill's #WeWriteBooks series:

Have you edited a book before? Drop a line of encouragement for those who are new to it, and maybe share a tip or two. If you haven't edited before and have questions, leave them in the comments for us!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Writing Exercise #3: Hero to Hero, Finding Theme

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Before we get started today, I would love to pass out doughnuts and high fives. If I was closer to you all, I would. You've been doing such a fantastic job on these Friday Writing Exercises. I'm a little behind reading through last week's, so bear with me.

At Go Teen Writers, we're getting ready to film our first panel. Jill, Steph and I will be answering a couple of questions provided by you guys. The teen writers who have earned the right to ask us ALMOST any question, have been randomly selected from among all those who participated in the first two writing exercises of the year. Are you ready to find out who they are?

J. Liessa 
Hadley Grace

Congrats you two! We are working to contact you, but if either of you are reading, could you drop me a line at and I'll get you the details. I didn't think through the whole contact thing, so please accept my apologies.

In any case, I hope you're all enjoying the writing exercises. Today I thought we'd follow up Stephanie's Monday post on theme.

Theme shows up all over your novel and it shows up in different ways. Sometimes it's bold and sometimes it's subtle. If it's done well, it's woven into your story from beginning to end--which makes it a little tough to address in a writing exercise that can easily be shared in the comments section of a site like this.

But I had a thought. And after chewing on it for a bit, I think perhaps this little exercise might help you unearth at least one of the themes struggling to break free from the depths of your story.

Off you go, friends! Write, write, write! I'll be back to check in on you and I hope you return as well. Take a look at what everyone else is writing and see if you can help them spot THEME.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Creative Writing Lessons from a Journalist, a guest post from Andrea Salvador

Jill here. We have a guest blog post today from the talented Andrea Salvador. She brings to us a journalist's perspective, which I think is really interesting. Please welcome Andrea!

Andrea Salvador lives somewhere in Asia, specifically a country with thousands of islands and constantly humid weather. She is a self-proclaimed writer with a liking towards creating lists, watching sci-fi movies, and rearranging her bookshelf. You can find her on Pinterest, on her blog, or on her website.

With the broad spectrum of writing divided by genres, styles, and forms, I tend to see writing simply divided into two: journalism and creative writing. 

A bit of a background on me: I'm a creative writer by heart. I started writing short stories in second grade, and now in eighth grade, I've written three novellas and two novels, now writing my third. However I'm a bit of a journalist as well. I'm currently a news and opinion writer for the school paper, and I was published last December in the Philippine Inquirer’s opinion column, Young Blood. 

While I greatly prefer the freedom, creativity, and the encouragement to go wild with my imagination from creative writing, I have learned so many amazing lessons from journalism that I've carried over to creative writing. Lessons that you can pick up if you give journalism a try. Here are five:

1. Structure 

When I write my articles, I have a certain structure to follow. There's the typical beginning, middle, and end, but every paragraph needs to connect with each other and pick up where the former left off. This is true in the plots of stories I write: I make sure to write in a way that every chapter, every scene must be relevant and arranged in such a way everything makes sense and backs up and adds to the fire of the plot.

2. Research 

As a journalist, there are so many ways to research, not just through the Internet. I conduct interviews, attend actual events to gain information, and read books or other articles related to topics I'm writing about. Even though creative writing is all about the imagination, you're bound to do some research, from a country your story is set in to traditions from other cultures to the latest inventions – to make your world and characters believable as possible. Journalism is a great way to practice this.

3. Hooking readers

Creative writers often worry about perfecting the first sentence of their stories, as well as first chapters, and for good reason. In journalism, not only should the title of a certain article grab the attention of the reader right away, the first sentence should as well. This “hook” should continue throughout the article, all the way up to the end. With practice, journalism can train you to do that well.

4. Summarizing 

If you'll notice, many articles in the newspaper are concise. In journalism, there is little room for irrelevant information – it's all the important bits, and the rest are left out. I find myself doing this in creative writing and it works spectacularly, especially in editing. Journalism makes stories tighter through the practice of summarizing and condensing everything together. This works great in fiction and can also be applied to writing pitches, blurbs, and synopses for your work in progress.

5. 5Ws, 1H

Who, what, when, where, why, and how: these are the necessities in writing an article, especially for news. For me, this also serves as a great way to expound on a plot bunny. If I have an idea I want to turn into an actual story, I get the basics nailed down first: the 5Ws and the 1H. So next time if you're stuck planning out a story, this is a great way to get yourself out of the block. 

All in all, my creative writing has been influenced by the skills I have gleaned from journalism. It's a great form of writing to dabble in and gain experience with, no matter what subject you pursue: news, opinion, feature, or sports. However, out of all things journalism has taught me, one priceless lesson rises above the rest: everyone and everything has a story, and it's up to each of us to tell it to the world.

There are a lot of stories out there. Can you think of one that you need to tell?